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EE using balloons and drones to deliver rural 4G coverage

Tuesday, February 21st 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

EE wants to use balloons and drones to deliver 4G mobile coverage to the most remote parts of the UK.

The operator, which already has the country’s largest 4G network, has today demonstrated new technology designed to reach those areas not covered by traditional methods.

EE says it can use mini mobile masts – known as small cells – attached to helium balloons to provide wide-area 4G coverage where permanent masts have been damaged or in areas currently without any signal at all.

It has also been experimenting with drones equipped with mini sites, including a basestation and antenna, that can provide targeted coverage in situations such as search and rescue operations.

Marc Allera, the company’s CEO, said: “We are going to extraordinary lengths to connect communities across the UK.

“Innovation is essential for us to go further than we’ve ever gone, and deliver a network that’s more reliable than ever before.

“Rural parts of the UK provide more challenges to mobile coverage than anywhere else, so we have to work harder there – developing these technologies will ultimately help our customers, even in the most hard to reach areas.”

EE, which is waiting on patents for both its tethered and powered ‘air mast’ solutions, expects to deliver a balloon solution to a rural environment in 2017.

'Coverage on demand'

Mr Allera added: “Looking ahead, I see innovations like this revolutionising the way people connect.

“In the future, why couldn’t we offer what we’re calling ‘coverage on demand’?

“What if an event organiser could request a temporary EE capacity increase in a rural area, or a climber going up Ben Nevis could order an EE aerial coverage solution to follow them as they climb?

“We need to innovate, and we need to think differently, always using customers’ needs to drive the way we create new technologies.”

As well as working on its ‘air masts’, EE is also upgrading more than 100 sites a week to 4G as it works towards 92% geographic coverage of the UK.

The upgrades add signal strength, capacity and reliability to the network as well as increasing coverage.

EE is also deploying a fleet of rapid response vehicles to support the new Emergency Services Network.

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